It had been four years, one month, and six days since I’d eaten any chocolate. I’d ended that relationship for the betterment of my reflux symptoms. But even after my symptoms were gone, I continued my fast. It became a Lifetime Challenge to see how long I could abstain from the most powerful substance on earth – a substance that goes back to the beginning of time. I’m convinced that Eve was tempted, in the Garden of Eden, to partake of cocoa beans, crushed and melted, with just the right amount of sugar cane mixed in, rather than tempted to eat an apple; no woman I know would be tempted to fall from Grace for an apple.
Last year was full of changes, and I began to contemplate how to one day bring chocolate back into my life. Candy bars would be anticlimactic, as would cookies. And so, I waited. And waited. And waited more. Finally, in a moment of clarity, or chocolate lust, my epiphany hit me in the taste buds. It doesn’t matter what I eat, it matters with whom I eat it, I told myself. It was then I knew what had to be done.
Twenty years prior, I’d appeared on my friend Thelma Lou’s front porch with a box of Russell Stover Assorted Milk Chocolates.
“Oh, I’ve never had these before. Thank you,” she said.
Bewildered, I wondered how she’d managed to survive all those years without Russell. I quickly introduced them, “Thelma Lou, this is Russell. Russell, meet Thelma Lou.” It was love at first bite, and they carried on for years afterwards. So, it was only fitting that I break my chocolate fast with Thelma Lou. My friend Leona and I drove to Thelma Lou’s house one day for lunch. I brought a box of Russell with me and announced my intentions. “I want to break my fast with you.”
Thelma Lou was taken back. “With me? Oh, I feel honored that you would do that with me.” Only a fellow chocolate lover could fully appreciate the monumental impact of the occasion.
Next, we had to pick out our pieces to eat. Leona and Thelma Lou chose, then it was my turn. I was stumped. They all looked so beautiful. The room was quiet; my mood was pensive.
“Well, pretty much any of them will be great. You can’t go wrong,” Leona broke the silence.
“Oh, but it matters,” I replied to my naïve friend. What may have seemed to be one small step for an ordinary chocolate eater, was, in fact, one giant leap for all the chocolate deprived people of the world. After living chocolate-free while the earth traveled approximately 2336 million miles around the sun, I was ready to call the New York Times for coverage of my reentry into the World of Chocolate. Finally, I chose my first love – a chewy caramel center covered with milk chocolate.
And so, on October 19, 2017, the three of us held up our chocolate-coated pieces of heaven and toasted each other. We hugged. We took photos to commemorate the event. And then, of course, we had more candy.
I texted Flash pictures, and he freaked out. “You really did it?” he texted. “I can’t believe it.” It’s not often he uses all caps and multiple exclamation points in his texts; he was appropriately elated for me. Or perhaps he was simply glad I’d be bringing massive amounts of chocolate into the house again. On the drive home, I determined to be self-controlled as I acclimated to my rediscovered freedom. Just a couple of bites here and there, I told myself. But my mind reeled with what would be next.
The following morning, I went to Walmart for a few things. Which, of course, was planned so I could pick up a couple of candy bars. After driving home, I sat in my car to taste one of them, first glancing around as if I might be caught breaking the law. It’s okay now, I coaxed myself, you’ve already broken your fast. You’re not cheating. I took a bite. Then another. Finally, I finished it off, although I thought to myself, Hmmm. Not as great as I remember. I wasted those calories. If I’m going to eat candy of any sort, it had better be worth the potential weight gain. The next day, I ate half of my second chocolate candy bar, a different kind. Seldom, in the history of my life, have I left half of anything uneaten. But I was sorely disappointed that yet another indulgence fell short.
As I was searching in the pantry for something meaningless, such as potatoes or gluten-free pasta or honey, I remembered that I’d bought some frosting a couple of months prior, when I was contemplating breaking my fast on a trip to our friends Rosebud and Captain’s lake house; I’d bought all the supplies to make a yellow cake covered in chocolate frosting.
“You should wait,” Rosebud had told me. “Don’t do it yet.” I suppose she could tell I had doubt. And everybody knows you need faith to break a fast. I was glad I’d listened, but I’d held onto that frosting. Duncan Hines Classic Chocolate Creamy Home-Style Frosting. The kind with “no high fructose corn syrup,” so it’s healthier. I don’t need HFCS messing with the unadulterated flavor of refined sugar; I believe in purity.
I opened the canister, lovingly peeled off the foil covering, and took a spoonful. Thinking I’d died and gone to heaven, I glanced around to see if the angel Gabriel was standing nearby with brownies or a chocolate cream pie. But I was alone, and alive.
Never had frosting been so wonderful. It was fudge in spread form. Reminding myself to not go the way of the addict, I put it back in the fridge. Each day that week, I had a couple of bites. But, somehow, by the end of the week, it was gone. Miraculously, I had bought two containers of frosting at the same time, so there was backup in the pantry. But I resisted the temptation to open the second container, for a few more days.
In the meantime, I bought a ten-pack of little Hershey bars, the kind that have tiny squares you can break off, so you don’t have to eat the entire bar all at once. Whatever. Who can eat only one or two or six little squares at a time? I also bought some marshmallows, in case we decided to have s’mores over the fire pit in the backyard.
But that would’ve been a lot of effort, and I hadn’t found any good gluten-free graham crackers, so I decided to stay on my comfy couch in my warm living room and eat my delicacies unroasted. By biting off two chocolate squares at a time, quickly followed by a bite of a giant marshmallow, I was able to create s’mores in my mouth.
For six weeks, I was a loose cannon. I tried chocolate chip cookies again. Chocolate syrup on bananas, when I was out of ice cream. Chocolate covered cherries, in memory of my dad, who loved them. Everything smothered in chocolate, I ate. I was rapidly descending into the depraved state I’d lived in prior to my abstinence.
Then, it ended. Abruptly. After making up for the 48 and a half months of not having chocolate, I finally slowed down, and began consuming chocolate on an occasional basis. Thankfully, Valentine’s Day was the next day. Flash came home bearing a large heart-shaped box of Russell Stover.
“Oh my gosh. You didn’t have to get a large box. Wow.”
“It was that one, or one of the tiny ones. No in between.”
“Good choice then,” I commended him as I opened up the box and began taking a bite out of each piece, my at-home Russell ritual. It drives Flash crazy, but it’s more fun than eating the civilized way. And it keeps Flash from stealing any; he likes his candy in whole pieces.
The next day when Flash came home from work, I lamented, “I miss Russell.”
“It’s already gone?”
“Yes,” I explained, “that box looks big on the outside, but only 13 pieces of candy were on the inside."
But I was done for awhile. No more chocolate for me, I thought, I’ve got to work on getting these extra pounds off.
The following week, my friend Lylas and I went to dinner. On the way, she handed me a Russell Stover chocolate bar. I’d never had a Russell bar. I didn’t know they existed. I ripped the paper off and broke off a square. It melted, as did my heart.
“It smells like Easter,” I exclaimed. “Want some?”
“Sure,” she said. “Oh, it does smell like Easter.”
At the end of our evening, as she pulled out of my driveway to head home, I thought about that half bar of Russell on her console. I’d wanted to ask for it, but thought I’d be safer with it going home to live with her. This is better, I told myself, I’ve got to stop this crazy chocolate indulgence.
And I did stop it. I had no more chocolate. I had overcome and conquered my addiction once and for all.
Until the following week. My hankering returned with a vengeance, and I ate an entire bag of cookies in four days. I’ve finished off my second bag of cookies this week. Four days ago, I bought some of those delightful Hershey bars, but had to quickly hide them when I heard Cowboy’s bus pull up in front of the house that afternoon. I threw my treasure into a secret hiding place. After Cowboy went to bed that night, I began my search. When I’m drowning in adrenaline from the fear of being caught, my memory takes a hike; I had no idea where I’d stashed my stash. The clanking, banging, opening and closing of doors and drawers, and my exasperated sighs rang throughout the house. Flash has learned to not ask questions when I get like that, but I explained, “I bought chocolate, but I can’t remember where I put it.”
“In the usual place?” he asked. Of course I hadn’t put it in the usual place. Flash knows where the usual place is. I cleverly put it in an unusual place, and therein lies the problem. My brain is programmed for the five usual hiding places.
“No, I had to find a new place quickly,” I replied. “Cowboy was approaching the front door.” Now, dear reader, it’s not that I never let my beloved son partake in chocolate. It’s not that I don’t share with him. But my restricting his sugar intake is for his own good. That’s why, when he’s asleep, I so often finish off his months-old Halloween candy, Christmas stocking candy, and Easter candy. It hurts me far more than it hurts him. I’m a good mother who’s willing to sacrifice my health for his. I adhere to the “do as I say, not as I do, and you’ll be healthier for it” philosophy.
Why, oh why, is sugar is bad for us? Why couldn’t liver or calf tongue be bad for us? I want some answers on this. All the modern day advances of science, and they can’t make sugar healthy? I’m so disappointed in you, scientists. Shame on you. The world would be a happier, less cranky place if you’d do your jobs and fix this.
And so, until they find a way to make sugar-laden chocolate-covered morsels the next superfoods, I’ll strive for balance in my diet. I’ll be a healthier me. Beginning next week, I’m swearing off candy. I’m going back to the basics of fruits and veggies. No more chocolate for me.
Until, of course, that Easter Bunny delivers an enormous Russell Stover milk chocolate rabbit in my basket. Or until I find those hidden Hershey bars. Whichever comes first.